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Opposition officials hit by wave of resignations and arrests in Armenia 

15 July 2021
Nikol Pashinyan brandishes a hammer before the election. He said the hammer represented his 'steel mandate'. Video still.

Armenian authorities have reportedly forced officials with ties to the opposition, including village and city mayors, to resign. Some have also been criminally charged for violating electoral legislation during the snap parliamentary elections. 

Since acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s landslide election victory on 20 June, politicians and local government officials connected with the opposition Armenia Alliance coalition, headed by Armenia’s ex-President Robert Kocharyan, have been forced to resign and many are facing criminal charges in connection to alleged corruption and vote-buying during the elections. 

On Wednesday, Pashinyan called on Armenia’s Investigative Committee to initiate more ‘effective and decisive’ actions, in order to ‘satisfy people’s expectations’. 

In the run-up to the elections, Pashinyan promised a hardline against the opposition. Stating that the ‘Velvet Revolution’ had become the ‘Steel Revolution’. He also said he would ‘go after’ those working in state bodies who tried to coerce other employees to vote for certain political forces, promising ‘staff massacres’.

While both international and domestic observers have declared the 20 June election to have been carried out fairly, there were a number of instances of violations, including vote-buying, and the pressuring of employees or subordinates to vote for a particular party. 

According to Daniel Ioannisyan, a member of Independent Observer Public Alliance, an Armenia-based election watchdog, the majority of violations were carried out by the Armenia Alliance. 

After the election, the head of the village of Odzun in Lori province, who was a supporter of Armenia Alliance, was allegedly attacked after refusing a call to resign from the Pashinyan-allied governor Aram Khachatryan. The governor has denied the allegations. 

[Read more: Tensions between Pashinyan and Armenian opposition remain after election]

Firings, resignations, and arrests

The forced resignations began in early July, with four village heads in Aragatsotn province leaving their posts after they were reportedly asked to do so by the Pashinyan-allied Governor. In all four villages, the ruling Civil Contract Party had lost to the opposition. 

The latest sackings, however, have hit much larger municipalities.

Mkhitar Zakaryan, who was elected as Mayor of Meghri in 2016 was also sacked last week. Zakaryan, who was also a member of the Armenia Alliance electoral list. He had previously been charged for fraud and ‘exploitation of state authority’. 

Zakaryan was also among the around twenty people, including other local government officials, who were charged for ‘hooliganism’ in April, when he, along with a group of protesters, tried to physically block the Armenian Prime Minister from moving through Syunik province. 

The Mayor of Goris, Arush Arushanyan, was charged with vote-buying on Thursday. Appointed mayor by Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan in 2017,  he became a sharp critic of Pashinyan following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war and was a member of the Armenia Alliance electoral list in the snap parliamentary election. 

He dismissed the allegations of vote-buying, telling journalists ‘what can you expect from monkeys?’

He had previously been charged in late December 2020 for ‘illegal entrepreneurship’ among four other similar charges. Arushanyan was detained at the time, though a judge later ordered his release.

Meanwhile, Samvel Paramazyan, the mayor of the mining town of Kajaran, elected in 2016 and who has been facing criminal charges since December for allegedly kidnapping a resident of Kajaran after having a conflict with him, has reportedly been detained by the National Security Service and taken to Yerevan.

The heads of two villages of Syunik —  Vorotan and Karahunj were also charged with vote-buying and detained last week.

Many of those sacked or arrested were subject to previous criminal charges, and had been in police custody, but were released on court order — an apparent continuation of the conflict between the Pashinyan government and the judiciary, which was overwhelmingly appointed by Armenia’s pre-revolution authorities. 

Copper conflict

Armenia’s opposition has also reported that their businesses have also been targeted by authorities.  

On Thursday, Vahe Hakobyan the former governor of Syunik’ and a close ally of Robert Kocharyan stated that five employees of the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine  — where he serves as chair of the board of directors — were detained, two of whom were later arrested. 

Police have not made a comment about the alleged arrests. 

One of Armenia’s largest mining companies, the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine has also been banned from exporting copper concentrate for the past two weeks. The combine is located in the city of Kajaran, the only municipality in the province where Kocharyan’s Armenia alliance collected more votes than Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party.

On 15 July, Armenia’s parliament adopted a bill, setting up export duties for the copper and molybdenum concentrates — they had previously been exempt. 

 

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